At times, the natural rhythm of pianist Bill Anschell's upcoming album, Rumbler, recalls the calm of a gently falling rainy day in transition from winter to spring, afternoon to dusk. The feeling of rain - quiet, unpredictable, and revealing - permeates tunes like "Dark Wind," "Captive Light," "Rumbler," Duke Ellington's "Reflections In D," and the Beatles cover, "For No One."
Scheduled for release on Jan. 20, Rumbler on Origin Records goes for understated, good intentions over pyrotechnics, captivating the listener willing to go along for a long, slow ride. Imagine a musical version of a walk in the woods as you approach a clearing, and then, witness nature bustling to life.
Each of the 11 instrumentals on Anschell's 15th album groove off a singular theme, as his longtime trio with bassist Chris Symer and drummer Jose Martinez work their way through the nooks and crannies of every harmonic, melodic twist.
A lot of thought went into the record, Anschell's first fully composed ensemble jazz recording in a decade. "When you write at the piano, you tend to let your hands write for you. I prefer to hear all the parts in my head, so the music doesn't owe its existence to note patterns that fit the hands," Anschell said in a press release from Origin Records. But the contemplative, inwardly altruistic movements seem deeply felt more than overly wrought.
There's a lot of manipulation of notes and time signatures to defy convention. "I've written enough conventional tunes. I don't need to do that anymore," Anschell continued. "I'm more interested in going beyond the 32-bar form. I like to set up unusual compositional challenges for myself and try to solve them in a way that still allows the band plenty of room for improvisation and interaction."
Anschell's not one to go the conventional route, even when composing. His song titles are as quirky and intriguing as his playing. In this new album alone, he's got "MBK," a Bangkok food court; "39F," a seat number on a flight to Peru or Paraguay; and "Heisenberg's Fugue State," from "Breaking Bad."
On the 7/4, Latin-tinged "No You Go," Anschell and his band fly over transient thoughts for feelings, every featured instrument heard in super-sonic majesty. Even though Anschell, bassist Chris Symer, and drummer Jose Martinez fly off the handle in dynamic form, as if they're perfecting the improvisational free-for-all of a lifetime, the singular musical theme's always there as a constant underpinning.
The musical theme provides the anchor for the musicians and the hook for the listener, whatever the scope of musical knowledge.
The musicians in Anschell's core trio are guys he's played with in and out of the recording studio for many years. He also welcomes special guests to augment the tracks: fiery guitarist Brian Monroney — firing on all cylinders through four tracks, most memorably "MBK," reedman Hans Teuber, tenor saxophonist Rich Cole, percussionist Jeff Busch, and Nashville's Jeff Coffin on soprano sax for the title track.
Even when the songs are slow in tempo, they're not slow to warm. Anschell's cover of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" lumbers on the same notes provided unwaveringly by tenor saxophonist Rich Cole, shadowed on piano. Just when you think they're going nowhere, drummer Martinez hints at the oozy-bluesy rock goodness to come from Monroney - a bubbling jazz version of a rap intro.
Anschell dreamed up such a guitarist in his head when imagining this cover's lacy boughs interspersed with distorted power chords.
For the beloved Seattle pianist, "Captive Light" gets him where he lives. Played in 5/4 time, the tune "sounds clean and simple, but it's very challenging for the improviser as the meter turns around against itself."
For the third track, Teuber enhances a lot of Anschell's gist on tenor sax with a furtive snippet of a melody that goes back and forth from first to third gear. The feel is that of a ripening new day after a pouring rain.
The Bill Anschell Quartet's next CD release show takes place 4 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham, Wash., for the Jazz Project. Then, again at Tula's in downtown Seattle 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11. His quartet features bassist Chris Symer, guitarist Brian Monroney, and drummer Brad Boal.
"Each of the tunes on Rumbler has a very distinct personality," Anschell added. "I'm really looking forward to seeing what directions they take when we stretch out and explore them in concert."